U.S. storms kill 13, cause widespread power outages
There were reports of deaths from the storm and heat in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Tennessee, Ohio and Kentucky.
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Millions across the Mid-Atlantic region sweltered Saturday in the aftermath of violent storms that pummeled the Eastern U.S. with high winds and downed trees, killing at least 13 people and leaving 3 million without power during a triple-digit heat wave.
There were reports of deaths from the storm and heat in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky and Washington, D.C.
In West Virginia, 232 Amtrak passengers were stranded Friday night on a train that was blocked on both sides by trees that fell on the tracks, spending about 20 hours at a rural station before buses picked them up. And in Illinois, storm damage forced the transfer of dozens of maximum-security, mentally ill prisoners from one prison to another.
Power officials said the outages wouldn't be repaired for several days to a week, likening the damage to a serious hurricane. Emergencies were declared in Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, the District of Columbia and Virginia, where Gov. Bob McDonnell said the state had its largest non-hurricane outage in history, as more storms threatened.
When the storm knocked out power for an Amazon data center in Northern Virginia, which hosts some popular websites, services like Netflix, Instagram and Pinterest went down. Most of the sites were back online Saturday afternoon.
The outages were especially dangerous because they left the region without air conditioning in an oppressive heat. Temperatures soared to 94 by midafternoon and were to hit 100 in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., where it had hit 104 on Friday.
The storm did damage from Indiana to New Jersey, although the bulk of it was in West Virginia, Washington and suburban Virginia and Maryland.
At least six of the dead were killed in Virginia, including a 90-year-old woman asleep in bed when a tree slammed into her home. Two young cousins in New Jersey were killed while camping when a tree fell on their tent. Two were killed in Maryland, one in Ohio, one in Kentucky and one in Washington.
Utility officials said it could take at least several days to restore power to all customers because of the sheer magnitude of the outages and the destruction.
Winds and toppled trees brought down entire power lines, and debris has to be cleared from power stations and other structures. All of that takes time and can't be accomplished with the flip of a switch.
"This is very unfortunate timing," said Myra Oppel, a spokeswoman for Pepco, which reported over 400,000 outages in Washington, D.C., and its suburbs. "We do understand the hardship that this brings, especially with the heat as intense at is. We will be working around the clock until we get the last customer on."
Especially at risk were children, the sick and the elderly. In Charleston, W.Va., firefighters helped several people using walkers and wheelchairs get to emergency shelters.
More than 20 elderly residents at an apartment home in Indianapolis were displaced when the facility lost power due to a downed tree. Most were bused to a Red Cross facility to spend the night, and others who depend on oxygen assistance were given other accommodations, the Fire Department said.
Others sought refuge in shopping malls, movie theaters and other places where the air conditioning would be turned up high.
In Richmond, Va., Tracey Phalen relaxed with her teenage son under the shade of a coffeehouse umbrella rather than suffer through the stifling heat of her house, which lost power.
Phalen said Hurricane Irene left her home dark for six days last summer, "and this is reminiscent of that," she said.
Others scheduled impromptu "staycations" or took shelter with friends and relatives.
The storm that whipped through the region Friday night was called a derecho, a straight-line windstorm that sweeps over a large area at high speed. It can produce tornado-like damage.
The storm, which can pack wind gusts of up to 90 mph, began in the Midwest, passed over the Appalachian Mountains and then drew new strength from a high-pressure system as it hit the Southeast, said Bryan Jackson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Information from The New York Times was included in this report.